Chrysler Brand May Have a European Future, After All
By Andy Bannister
In a u-turn which contradicts previous reports, it seems the Chrysler nameplate is now likely to survive in Europe after all.
Comments from Fiat CEO Sergio Marchionne imply the name will be used to market Lancia models in those parts of the continent where the Italian marque is unrepresented or performs poorly.
Earlier, Fiat sources were suggesting Chrysler and Dodge would both be phased out of European showrooms in short order.
This continued churning of the rumour-mill can’t be doing much for the European public’s confidence in the long-term future of Lancia or Chrysler, not to mention Alfa Romeo and Dodge.
The fundamental problem it highlights is the current weakness of both Lancia and Chrysler in most of Europe.
Chrysler-badged cars sold only 30,000 across the continent last year, and its most well-received models – the big 300C saloon and estate – have been particularly hard-hit by a switch away from larger cars. The Sebring has not been a success and the once-popular PT Cruiser has died unreplaced.
Lancia, meanwhile, is successful in Italy but has only a marginal presence in much of the European Union, and none at all in places like the UK, Ireland and Scandinavia. Relaunching the brand there would be risky and expensive.
Platform-sharing has persistently been touted by sources within Fiat as the answer, with both Lancia and Alfa Romeo set to use Chrysler underpinnings.
That’s a very different thing from the latest suggestion which has the Chrysler badge simply replacing Lancia in those markets where Chrysler is better known.
Models like the successor to Lancia’s promising but little-known Ypsilon city car are prime candidates for such a move, which would create one of the smallest Chrysler-badged cars ever.
A solution based on simply swapping badges depending on the market doesn’t say a lot for Fiat’s custodianship of Lancia’s much-vaunted heritage.
Business is business, however. Marchionne told Automotive News that one challenge Fiat is wrestling with is how to allow the Chrysler and Lancia marques to co-exist, rather than fight.
One precedent for this might be the example of GM in Europe, where the Opel and Vauxhall marques exist in parallel universes – the Vauxhall badge is used in the UK, and Opel elsewhere, but the cars are essentially identical.
The GM arrangement works because both Vauxhall and Opel traditionally made the same sort of ordinary family cars and used to compete with each other – something that can’t truthfully be said currently about Lancia and Chrysler.
GM’s dual marques have helped the company to hang on to sales in key markets but the Vauxhall-Opel solution isn’t ideal in many ways and has held back pan-European promotion in these days of big corporate sponsorship. Simple things like which brand to advertise on posters at a football match when England plays Germany pose a tricky dilemma.
Sticking a Chrysler badge on random cars is actually a time-honoured tradition here in Europe.
Back in the 1970s, after the then-expansionist Chrysler had acquired a rag-bag of European factories belonging to Rootes and Simca, it was decided gradually to introduce the corporate identity and name to various products the American firm had inherited.
First up was a model originally designed as a joint flagship for Simca and new mid-range offering from forgotten British luxury brand, Humber. This mongrel eventually emerged in 1970 as the Chrysler 180 – advertised as “an American, from Paris” – and proved a monumental flop.
Undeterred by this initial failure, the pentastar and Chrysler name was later appended to a number of former British Hillman products, including the elderly Avenger and Hunter saloons, as well as some French Simcas. These Euro-Chryslers limped on for a few years, unloved by buyers.
Like so much else that happens in the global motor industry, history seems to be in danger of repeating itself.
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